Saturday, September 17, 2016

Why newspapers matter (Musings on digital age killing print journalism)

Updated: 18 Sept. 2016
This blog derives from attending Paula Simons' talk at EPL's Forward Thinking Series. 

Since it was published, as always, I've revised the blog significantly. Main reason is the first version is a stream-of-consciousness draft that nearly always needs major work to capture thoughts fully and present them in an interesting way. Translation: First iteration often sucks and begs to be improved, putting readers out of their misery.
As an instructor and prof teaching transfusion science in Med Lab Science, to my surprise I was often asked to speak at conferences. Partly it was half-believing Bernard Shaw's maxim, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” But that underestimates teaching, because it sure as hell ain't easy.
My suspicion is that I was asked to speak mainly because of presenting the real-me, even if politically incorrect and risking criticism, something that Alyson Connolly and others see as critically important in public speaking. 
That's what The Edmonton Journal's Paula Simons did in her EPL talk. She was unafraid to be authentic and reveal her genuine thoughts on many topics, even if possibly seen as politically incorrect by some. As well, Paula demonstrated a classic way to give an entertaining, successful talk. Her presentation style caught my attention from the get-go, because it's a skill I team-taught in Med Lab Science.
So what follows is what I really think about the digital age and print journalism. And how the digital revolution undermines democracy, especially as it affects the young, pretty much the opposite of what everyone claims.
My views are not balanced and fair, but they are genuine. Revisions are shown in [brackets].
The motivation for the blog specifically comes from meeting a young woman at Paula's talk who told me she was tired of superficial news from social media like Facebook and was glad her Mom encouraged her to attend Paula's talk because she learned a lot. She also noted that she was concerned that she was being stalked on Facebook with ads targetted to her interests.

[Oh yah! Not only Facebook. Google is the main culprit and tracks everything you do, unless you turn it off. And there's so much more about the digital age that invades our privacy. My take is that most young folks could care less if their privacy is invaded, if they see ads based on their interests, that's AWESOME! They don't care what Apple, Facebook, Google does.See FURTHER READING.]

In my 7th decade, I have subscribed to a newspaper for as long as I've lived independently from parents, obviously many decades. Residing in an Edmonton university-area apartment complex whose residents are mostly University of Alberta students, it's hard not to notice that I'm the only one on my floor who takes a newspaper, in my case the Edmonton Journal. Suspect it's the same on all 28 floors.

Headlines such as, 'Internet growing as Canadians' main source of news' concern me, especially if news is mainly via social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Detesting Facebook for many reasons, I prefer Twitter.

But the fact is we tend to 'friend' and follow folks who think just like us, meaning we on social media seldom see alternative viewpoints. As an oldster I have the breadth of experience to realize others think differently. But those younger likely do not. 

[Indeed, judging by my fellow tenants (mainly University of Alberta students), most don't have a clue about issues important in Edmonton or even Canada and definitely receive no in-depth analysis. 

How could they? Few listen to local local radio stations like CBC's Edmonton AM, watch cable news at 5 or 6 pm or national newscasts later in the night. Few subscribe to cable TV or have a land-line phone. 

They don't subscribe to or read Postmedia's monopoly troika, the Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Sun, National Post. The Globe and Mail, are you kidding? They don't even read the free local daily Metro News judging by the stack of freebies left in the front lobby.

So where do they get the news that makes for an informed citizenry. They don't. Dare I say they don't vote in significant numbers either, despite major efforts to motivate them and make it easy.]

I'd love to see the University of Alberta's Faculty of Extension  offer a course correlated to what Paula Simons gave a masterclass in at EPL's Forward Thinking Series. 

Perhaps call it, "Why local newspapers matter" or similar. Maybe even expand it to being a compulsory course in many faculties.

[Upon reflection, this title doesn't cut it. It's way too boring. As a transfusion instructor the one word that woke students up immediately, like no other, was SEX. And the target audience for such a course is not folks like me, it's young people from late teens to early thirties,who have abandoned newspapers, think they don't matter.

In Paula's EPL talk, she joked that when we read her column, we have 'intellectual intercourse' and we were all fabulous. So how about these suggested course titles:
  • Newspapers: Best intellectual sex you'll ever have;
  • Best intellectual sex you'll ever have is this media course;
  • Be adventurous: Give intellectual sex a try.]
Main topics would include (no particular order):
  • [Great intellectual sex you're missing without newspapers]
  • Why, if newspapers did not exist, you'd be clueless, dumb and dumber. Reporters would not exist to tell your stories, those of your city, local entertainment, sports team, nada.]
  • Newspapers before the Internet (Sources of income, reporting standards such as requiring 2 sources of information before printing. [Does it sound quaint? Don't be ignorant. Watch All the President's Men.]
  • Newspapers in the Digital Age (Loss of advertising revenue, Internet users want everything to be free. [Who do you think will work for free? Would you?]
  • Rise of democratic 'citizen journalism' (Anyone can blog, become a source of information for tens of 1000s with zero accountability. [Some citizen journalists are quality, many are not. You're their poodles because you don't require them to give evidence for claims.]
  • Why it's critical to an informed citizenry for print journalism to survive, especially at local level (In-depth coverage of local issues, helping citizens understand issues. Prefer to be dumb or want others to decide your every-day life for you? Then don't support local papers who inform you.)
  • Negative impact of Digital Age on print journalism (including many excellent journalists losing jobs and pitfall of rush to immediate reports that are often false.) [Guess you don't care if info is wrong.]
  • Positive impact of Digital Age on print journalism (Mostly ability to inform citizens in real time. One of the pros of the Digital Age, but downside is the first information may be wrong, and often is.)
  • Strategies for how print journalism, often denigrated 'main stream media', can survive. [They need your help.]
I'm just a senior citizen who sees the past, present, and future of newspapers and hopes print journalism, with its high standards, will find a way to survive.

I've no doubt omitted many key issues but hope you can see why such a course would be a wonderful resource for Edmontonians, especially the young, but indeed everyone.

And Paula Simons would be first of many experts I recommend to teach the course. Others include (not an exhaustive list)

[Small sample of ethics of social media companies the young rely on. Won't even start on Facebook.] 

Apple should repay Ireland €13b, European Commission rules (30 Aug. 2016) | Only paid ~ 0.005% in 2014

Yes, Google Play is tracking you — and that’s just the tip of a very large iceberg (14 Sept. 2016)

Google agrees to £130m UK tax deal (23 Jan. 2016)

Google searched for (and found) the perfect tax havens (14 Sept. 2016)

Monday, September 12, 2016

My take on Buddhism (Wherever you go, there you are)

Updated: 22 June 2018 (Fixed links, increased clarity)
Decided to expand on my journey into Buddhism to help readers understand where I'm coming from with regard to my husband's IPF and Esbriet

First, Buddhism may not even be a religion as it doesn't propose, as most traditional religions do (Christianity, Judaism, Islam), that there is a supreme, all knowing being who created us, our earth, indeed the entire the universe.

Think about the universe. We don't know where it ends and it may go on forever. Today's astronomy experts estimate the total stellar population at roughly 70 billion trillion.

One of which is Earth, the pale blue dot  as Carl Sagan called it.
Traditional religions ask us to believe that we are special, the creatures that know and know we know. That's true but evolution clearly shows that we're just one branch of life on earth that began of millions of years ago. Canada's Margaret Laurence balanced the two truths well:

Yes, I believe in Dawkins' The God Delusion. And The Greatest Show on Earth is awesome, a word I seldom use. 

FACT: When you examine human DNA and those of other  living creatures (not just primates ~gorillas, chimps), you see that all life is related, we're all distant cousins, not just with apes, birds, cows, pigs, fish, whales, but even with the vegetable kingdom of trees, plants,etc. Evolution is not a straight line but consists of branches that led to different life forms.

Despite the great diversity of life, we are connected with all other life forms. Yes, I believe I'm distantly related over millions of years to the veggies I eat. Occasionally I mutter, 'Sorry, little buddy' when eating a pea or carrot.

So, where does Buddhism fit and why does it resonate with me and help in coming to grips with a fatal disease in a loved one? What follows is my lay person's take on Buddhism. My views are based mainly on three books:

Four Tenets of Buddhism
Usually called the '4 noble truths', these ideas are what spoke to me from the get-go. How I see them (my words):

1. Life consists of suffering;
2. We suffer because we overly cling to our desires and possessions and become sad when we lose them. We see life as being 'all about me' and our needs;
3. We can end life's suffering if we see its true cause;
4. The way to end suffering is to follow the ''Eightfold Path'.

How to end suffering
Please remember that the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) lived in India between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE. Like traditional religions, many myths and legends and lack of reliable history, make it impossible to know if he existed and who the heck he was (See Further Reading - Ancient History Encyclopedia).

Buddhism grew out of a reaction to Hinduism, similar to how Protestantism was a reaction against Roman Catholicism. As such Buddhism includes reincarnation and karma, but western Buddhists like me are free to reject reincarnation. Karma is what my spouse often says:

  • What goes around comes around.  
  • Always take the high road.
Here's what 'Sid' said about how to end suffering:

1. Right Views - Believe that the cause of human suffering is because we strongly cling to our needs, often basing our happiness on our possessions and the actions of others towards us. Believe in all the 4 Noble Truths.

2. Right Intent - Do we really want to deal with the issue of what causes suffering? Are we prepared to be single-minded and persistent?

3. Right Speech - Become aware of what our speech says about our character and identify the motives that lead to being unkind. Strive to become more truthful and charitable to others.

4. Right Action - Understand why we act as we do, and try to behave better, e.g., don't lie, steal, kill (more or less Christianity's 10 commandments).

5. Right Livelihood - A man of his times, Sid included slave trader, prostitute, arms maker, and occupations like butcher as ones not to become. Reminds me of my Dad's view of used car salesmen, which caused me to go into helping professions, first high school teacher, then medical laboratory technologist, transfusion educator, and finally consultant and webmaster/mailing list manager.

6. Right Effort - It's hard to follow the main precepts of Buddhism (being a better person) and takes much effort. I see it as a journey, not a destination, because I fail daily but still strive.

7. Right Mindfulness - Being intentionally aware of our thoughts and actions in the present moment, non-judgmentally.

8. Right Concentration - Concentrate when meditating, focus the mind. Goes together with 'right mindfulness'. The two taken together become the practice of meditation.

Four more key Buddhist concepts that resonate with me:

1. Impermanence. Everything in life is impermanent. Our bodies decay, relationships change, even mountains erode. Change defines life. Don't cling to possessions, loved ones, a cozy existence. Don't depend on others for happiness. 

We will eventually die. Indeed, ultimately, we will all lose everything we hold dear. And it's normal. Put another way, 'Get over yourself.'

2. Loving kindness. Before we can love and help others we must love ourselves, be kind to ourselves. 
Only once we love and accept ourselves for who we are, our strengths and weaknesses, can we truly give ourselves to others.

3. Dont-know mind, sometimes called a beginner’s mind, is wide open, not closed. What I love about Buddhism is that it's open to questioning. In brief, if something sounds like BS, subject it to evidence and reject it if it doesn't meet the test. 

4. There is no self. This is tough concept to understand. When we say my body, my needs, who the heck is speaking? Is there a person inside our head that is "I"? If so, who is this 'being' and is it separate from our bodies? Does what traditional religions think of as an everlasting soul separate from our body exist? Buddhism says No.


Born into a Western culture and trained in the scientific method, there are parts of Buddhism I reject. Rather I see myself as believing in core, original Buddhist teachings, i.e., concepts that are generally accepted as true by all the branches that arose as Buddhism spread in Asia and beyond, e.g., Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism each with various sects. Certainly, I reject reincarnation and the transmogrification of Buddha into a near god-like creature, with bejewelled statues in monasteries. 

And I don't get hung up on the words in Pali, the language of Theravada Buddhism, words such as anicca (suffering), dukkha (suffering), et al.

Bottom line: What does Buddhism mean to me? To end life's suffering, see its cause as being 'all about me'. Focus on why we behave poorly and try to be a better person by following the eight paths to end our suffering and become happier. Simply put, live in the present, lead a moral life, and use mindfulness meditation (2 min. video) as a tool to reduce stress and improve wellbeing.

Humans have evolved as life forms who know and know that we know. Buddhism proposes that we are all in this world together, that all living things are part of the same family of life on Earth.

So there you have it. My take on Buddhism, why I value it and how it helps me cope.


Buddhism, an introduction (PBS)

5 minute introduction to Buddhism

Siddhartha Gautama (Ancient History Encyclopedia)

Thursday, September 08, 2016

IPF and Esbriet (Musings on extended life vs quality of life)

Updated: 12 Sept. 2016
Another blog, probably the last for awhile, on my spouse having idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and its treatment with pirfenidone (Esbriet®). 

Earlier blogs documented the initial diagnosis through getting Alberta government funding for Esbriet® via the Short Term Exceptional Drug Therapy (STEDT) program, to problems with serious drug side effects.

This blog discusses the difficult decision to stop taking Esbriet
® because of its side effects and resulting poor quality of life. In brief, after decreasing the daily dosage from 2403 mg/day (nine 267mg capsules/day) to six/day (two per meal), Peter has decided to opt for a side-effect free existence, knowing it will likely shorten his life. A tough decision, to say the least. 

We must thank Peter's pulmonologist for his ongoing support and the Inspiration™ Patient Assistance Program's nurses for their support while on Esbriet®.

First, research shows that pirfenidone, while not a cure, helps prolong life. And for those who have few side effects or cope with whichever ones they have, wonderful. Indeed, the day that Peter received Alberta government funding was a happy day. And we thank friends who wrote on his behalf to support government funding. 

Many articles on drug side effects encourage you to try everything to lessen them. Peter tried that by decreasing the dose from 9 pills/day to 6/day. He stayed out of the sun after getting a rotten rash, one of pirfenidone's side effects requiring him to stay off the drug for a month. And he took the pills with food.

About the sun, he wasn't thrilled about the need to wear long pants and long sleeves and a broad rimmed hat, and be slathered with 50+ SPF suntan lotion on any exposed skin in 25oC weather.

 It pretty much meant our visits to Edmonton's beautiful Hawrelak Park and vacations to Hawaii were kaput.

Yes, enjoying the sun was a luxury, but why did Peter decide to give up the drug that could prolong his life? In brief, it was because the drug's side effects made his life miserable. Even on a reduced dosage, life was hell. More specifically, the most serious side effects (won't stress others like dizziness) included: 

1. Insomnia. Being awake most of the night is not fun, and it requires the need to sleep during the day, creating a cycle.

2. Decreased energy, being constantly tired. These go with IPF and it's ironic that the drug exacerbates them.

3. Gastro-intestinal: Bloating, gagging, retching upon eating, plus ongoing cycles of constipation and diarrhea.

4. Altered taste. Food that was earlier loved now tastes awful, requiring all to be covered in ketchup. Soon ketchup too becomes unbearable. Desire to eat anything loses its appeal. 

In summary, on Esbriet® Peter was exhausted most of the time, barely able to get though each day, unable to enjoy food or life outdoors. Having energy for only 2-3 hours each day, and then being totally exhausted was depressing.

Without the drug, IPF's limitations exist, most notably

  • Everyday tasks like getting dressed or walking short distances are exhausting; 
  • He never know when he will need to cancel an event with short notice because energy comes and goes unexpectedly;
  • Travel becomes iffy due to the risk of getting a cold, which can be devastating for those with lung diseases.
But off Esbriet Peter has more energy, decreased insomnia, can enjoy food and the outdoors, and his outlook has improved, as would be expected. He becomes more of the person he was before being diagnosed with this incurable, crappy disease. Meaning he laughs, smiles, jokes and keeps me laughing as he has for the 44 years we've been hitched. 

Whatever the future holds, we'll deal with it, head-on. Peter is exercising on our treadmill as a way to prolong life, even a bit, and, for sure, create an increased ability to enjoy life as the disease progresses.

In Comments I indicated I'm a Buddhist, so decided to wrote this blog
Further Reading

Last blog: To be or not to be (Musings on IPF and Esbriet)

Duck A, et al.  Perceptions, experiences and needs of patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. J Adv Nurs. 2015 May; 71(5): 1055–65.
  • Research's purpose was to highlight the significant burden IPF has on a patient's quality of life.
But 99% on Esbriet reported 1 or more treatment-emergent adverse events, 57% reported severe adverse events.They include as SAE. Sounds like BS,no? Surely realities of disease leading to SAE means drug did NOT help.